Losing weight is at the top of many people's to-do lists. But for those with type 2 diabetes, weight control is especially important. “Carrying excess body fat increases the body's resistence to insulin, making blood glucose management more challenging,” says Sue McLaughlin, RD, CDE, past 2009 national president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. "According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese." In fact, research indicates that the longer someone has a high body mass index or BMI (a common measure of being overweight or obese), the greater their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It’s no secret that losing weight — and keeping it off — isn’t easy. But it is possible, and the benefits for those with diabetes are great. So how do you get started? Experts say the right way to lose weight is to incorporate a healthful diet into your overall diabetes management plan.

Diabetes Diet Control: Steps to Success

Here's how to get started on the path to weight-loss success:

Get physical. Exercise can help keep off the weight. “Research shows that people who increase physical activity along with reducing calorie intake will lose more body fat than people who only diet,” says McLaughlin, now a certified diabetes educator at Nebraska Medicine, Children's Hospital and Endocrine Clinics, in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. For confirmation, look at the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a database of 10,000 men and women who have lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off. Only 10 percent reached and maintained their weight-loss goal without exercise. Most people in the register chose walking as their form of exercise.

Eat breakfast. The most effective diabetes diet includes breakfast. Skipping breakfast can lead to overeating later in the day when you become ravenous. This can sabotage weight-loss plans and cause blood sugar levels to surge. Research shows that eating breakfast, especially if it’s cereal, is associated with better weight loss. The best cereals are free of added sugars and high in fiber. Pairing cereal with a high-protein food (drinking milk in the bowl, for instance), can help keep blood sugar levels in check. A common characteristic among the NWCR participants is that most of them ate breakfast.

Cut calories. The exact number of calories that people on a diabetes diet should consume depends on a number of factors, including age, gender, current weight, activity level, and body type. A reasonable goal for people with type 2 diabetes is between 1,200 and 1,800 calories per day for women and between 1,400 and 2,000 calories per day for men. Your diabetes educator can help you fine-tune the ideal calorie range to achieve weight loss while managing your blood sugar levels.

Feast on fiber. Generous amounts of fiber help lower blood sugar levels and speed weight loss. Research shows that a higher intake of fiber may prevent weight gain. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women between ages 31 and 50 should aim to eat at least 25 grams of fiber daily, while men in that same age range should eat about 31 grams. As we grow older, our fiber requirement drops. Women, 51 and older, require about 22 grams daily, while men need at least 28 grams of fiber. The fiber requirements in the guidelines for both age groups are still higher than most of us typically consume. One trick you can do to help increase your fiber intake is to toss fiber-rich legumes, like chickpeas and black beans, into salads, chili, and soups.

Eat mini-meals. A diabetes diet structured with three or more small meals daily is better than a diet plan that includes only one or two big meals. Large meals can cause blood sugar levels to surge, while eating smaller meals more frequently will help keep glucose levels lower after eating. Plus, a diabetes diet consisting of mini-meals spread through the day will help control hunger and calorie intake, possibly leading to faster weight loss.

Set small goals. “Don’t try to transform your body all at once,” advises McLaughlin. “That can be a recipe for failure.” Instead, set small, realistic targets, such as walking around the block four times a week and having dessert only on the weekend rather than every day. After these goals become habits, move on to your next objective. You’ll gain a feeling of accomplishment, while inching towards your ultimate weight-loss goal.

Get support. Staying motivated to stick with a weight-loss plan can be difficult when you’re going it alone. Connecting with others can provide the emotional support you need to avoid giving up. Weight-loss programs such as Weight Watchers are founded on the concept that support networks aid motivation. Keep in mind that support comes in many different forms. “For some people, online support groups can be just as effective, as well as more convenient and less costly,” says McLaughlin.

Use tricks to prevent overeating. Sometimes sneaky strategies can help keep you from overdoing it on diet-damaging foods. Try the following:

  • Fill up on low-calorie foods first. “Start every meal with the foods on your plate that are lowest in calories,” suggests McLaughlin. Non-starchy vegetables make the perfect low-calorie starter. By the time you get to the other foods, you won’t be so hungry.
  • Change your salad dressing system. Instead of sprinkling or pouring dressing over your salad, dip your fork into a side dish of dressing and then your salad before each bite. You'll be amazed by how much less you use and how many calories you save.
  • Take up a busy-hands hobby. If you’re idle, you’ll be more prone to eating. Keep busy with activities like walking, knitting, scrapbooking, doing crossword puzzles, or gardening.
  • Carry a toothbrush and toothpaste. Keep them in your purse or briefcase. When cravings hit, brushing your teeth with peppermint-flavored toothpaste can dampen your desire to eat.
  • Arrive fashionably late to parties. Without as much time near the buffet table and calorie-rich appetizers, you’ll likely eat less.

It’s important to continue healthy eating and regular exercise even after reaching your weight-loss goal. Healthy habits for weight control should last a lifetime.